“We were in a war and wanted to be tough.
We weren’t tough, we were kids.”
World War II, The Philippines. Johnny Oldfield tells what it’s like to grow up in a Japanese prison camp, his pivotal teenage years filled with danger and defeat, adventure and intrigue, cruelty and betrayal, starvation and death, survival and liberation.
Johnny calls himself a WONK (from the Chinese won gau, yellow dog) a mongrel running with a pack of rebellious kids and viewing his society from the ground up.
Separated from his father by the Japanese invasion, he gets his life lessons from a diverse cast of characters: his mother Ruth, a nurse with a strong and independent spirit; Harry Barnes, a storyteller who arrives from China carrying the urn of a friend’s ashes; Southy Jack, an ex-pro boxer who trains boys in the manly art; Polecat, a mestizo pal with an all-consuming hatred for the Japanese; the Colonel, a wise old plantation owner who gives advice on survival; Haverford, a disgruntled alcoholic from Manila’s high society; and Abiko, the feared officer of the Japanese camp guard.
This dramatic tale is played out in the heart of Manila, a city once called “the Pearl of the Orient,” now being destroyed by massive bombing, strafing, artillery barrages and mortar attacks.